Cedarville University’s School of Pharmacy will graduate its first doctoral class of 48 students in just a few days. The program, which is nearing full accreditation, was simply a hope 10 years ago.
A group of individuals familiar with the university created an advisory council in 2006 that was charged with envisioning a professional pharmacy program at the university. Dean of the School of Pharmacy Marc Sweeney said the school was founded on the idea to train Christian pharmacists.
“I wanted to build a school that ultimately trains students on how to be good stewards of God’s wisdom,” Sweeney said. “We often talk about being good stewards of what God gives us, and people automatically assume that’s finances and resources. One of our great resources is wisdom.”
A decade ago, there was no pharmacy school in the nation that had both Christian students and Christian faculty and staff. Jeff Lewis, associate dean of the School of Pharmacy, asked why not?
“Why not establish a program where we can train and graduate students with a faith in Christ, equipped with the skills and knowledge associated with the profession of pharmacy to go serve others in that fashion too?” he said.
Lewis said beginning Cedarville’s School of Pharmacy seemed like a logical next step to furthering Cedarville’s commitment to serving the needs of others.
“It’s a healthcare profession, it fits nicely with the mission of Cedarville University, and it dovetailed nicely with the existing nursing program in terms of the types of undergraduate training we had,” Lewis said, “so we already had an infrastructure here at the university strong in the sciences, which is the basis for our pharmacy graduate program.”
In 2008, the university named Sweeney the founding dean of the School of Pharmacy. In early 2009, assistant deans were selected, one of them being Lewis.
From academic promise to reality
The students graduating this May with their doctorate came to Cedarville based on a promise that there would be a professional pharmacy school in the near future. That was all they had.
“The majority of this graduating class came to Cedarville in either 2008 or 2009 as undergraduates,” Lewis said, “with an intention of studying pharmacy three or four years later, in a program that had no framework, had no faculty, had no facility, had no accreditation. It didn’t exist.”
One of the members of the first graduating class, Nathan Luce, said he chose Cedarville’s program because though the pharmacy program was but a hope, Cedarville was the only campus he visited that felt like home.
We didn’t have a building or anything, but we did have a couple of faculty members and Dean Sweeney and a prayer, so we kind of hung onto that hope. And here we are seven years later,” he said. “It was a little difficult to see the vision, but eventually we got there.
Josh Arnold, another graduating student, said though he came into the program only with the knowledge that there would be a professional pharmacy program, he had confidence that the program would be strong, as Cedarville’s engineering and nursing programs were at the time.
Lewis said students came based on that academic promise.
“They came with the intention of studying at a university, eventually a professional pursuit in pharmacy, based on the promise of the administration of this university to them, saying, ‘We are going to build it and it’s going to be successful, and we want you to be a part of it,’” Lewis said.
Lewis described these students as persevering pioneers, in part because they have been essentially the school’s guinea pigs who paved the way for the students who have followed in their footsteps.
“Every course they took was the first time the course had ever been offered, every course, every year, 18 credit hours per semester,” Lewis said. “There were challenges in that because the first launch of any given course has its struggles. So the first launch of every course added together, challenges, no doubt.”
Juanita Draime, a member of the class of 2016, said although it wasn’t smooth sailing all the time, the professors listened with open ears.
“Some of (the classes) were rough,” she said. “But the faculty were amazing, and they always listened to our grumblings and our critiques.”
Despite the challenges of being a member of the inaugural pharmacy class, it’s been an interesting experience, Luce said.
“Anytime you’re the first to do something, it’s going to be difficult just because you don’t have anyone else to draw experience from,” he said. “But I think overall, it was a great experience because we kind of banded together a little bit more than I think we would have otherwise as a class.”
Lewis said he and the rest of the faculty have been open with the students as the program has developed.
“We have students involved in our official faculty committees, and they’re involved in our accreditation process. They’re involved all over the place, so we are always getting feedback from our students,” he said.
Lewis said this feedback has helped the school make the necessary adjustments to improve the program for the upcoming pharmacy students.
And he said though it’s nice to see the first graduating class and the school nearing full accreditation after 10 years of planning, there’s another part he enjoys more.
“The real fun and excitement for me has been watching how God has brought together a talented exceptional group of faculty, a supporting staff, and a student body that has purposefully come to Cedarville University’s School of Pharmacy,” Lewis said.
Dedicated to service
One of Sweeney’s goals in founding the school was to build a school of students who reached out to the underserved.
“That’s not just international missions trips, but that’s also serving in inner cities and rural areas and everywhere where there’s people who have needs,” he said.
Luce went to Honduras to do health screenings and work with different pharmacies in the country. Draime has had missions opportunities in southeast Ohio, Los Angeles and India.
Lewis said he and the other faculty members have been impressed by the number of ways the students have demonstrated a desire to serve.
“They have been in the mindset and the practice of serving others in ways that are just beyond what we could have ever done ourselves,” Lewis said. “So if it was up to the faculty and staff to have created all the opportunities that this inaugural class engaged in, it would be 10 percent of what they’ve actually done.”
If everything goes according to plan, Cedarville’s School of Pharmacy will be fully accredited this June. The accreditation board visited Cedarville in March regarding full accreditation, and the School of Pharmacy met all 30 standards, Sweeney said.
The accreditation process began prior to 2012 for the school, and Cedarville was given pre-candidate accreditation status in the fall of 2012 so the university could begin accepting students to the professional program. Once students were in the professional program, the accreditation board could review the school as a candidate for accreditation, which is where Cedarville stands now. Sweeney said candidate status allows the school to graduate students who can become licensed pharmacists, but the school cannot maintain candidate status for more than four years.
After that, you have to be fully accredited, or you shut down,” Sweeney said. “So, full accreditation is really important for us for the longevity of the program.
Lewis said the School of Pharmacy must maintain its accreditation year after year even after being fully accredited, but full accreditation has been the school’s goal for the last 10 years.
A changing profession
Regardless of full accreditation, the future is not without its challenges. Lewis said one of the school’s biggest concerns is figuring out how to prepare its students for issues in healthcare. Medical abortion, physician-assisted suicide and mental illness are all issues that are at the forefront right now, Lewis said, and students are learning how to deal with those. But the landscape of healthcare changes quickly.
“The challenge is how to prepare students to face the needs 10 to 20 years from now that we don’t know exist yet,” Lewis said. “And those needs are going to be heavy.”
The 7-year commitment
But Lewis said the class of 2016 came to Cedarville with a purpose – a purpose to understand what it is to be a Christian and a pharmacist.
“They are believers first, Christ-followers first, they are trained in pharmacy, and they wanted to know (how) to serve others well in that training,” Lewis said. “They are caring for patients as a class, as a whole, with Christ’s compassion in mind, serving people as they serve Christ.”
Kelly Madden, a graduating student, said the greatest strength of Cedarville’s School of Pharmacy lies in its Christ-centered focus.
“It is a program that is unlike any other, because it is a Christ-centered approach,” she said, “and it focuses on developing you not only as a practitioner, but as a Christian pharmacist, and it really helps develop you spiritually as well as academically.”
Madden said although seven years might seem like a long time, one should not let that get in the way of following God’s plan.
“I think if you feel that God has called you to do something like that, the time should not be a deterrent in that way,” she said. “Seven years flies by.”
Arnold said pursuing pharmacy was well worth the seven-year commitment, as it’s afforded him many opportunities. He’ll be working in the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota next year for a residency program – a step closer to his goal of working as a pharmacist at a large hospital.
Luce said he dreamed of being a pharmacist since he was young, and he’s glad he didn’t give up his dream.
“I’ve known since I was about 13 that I wanted to be a pharmacist. My grandpa was a pharmacist, and he told me stories about working in the hospital,” he said. “I stuck with it, and I have no regrets. That 13-yearold was right. I’m 100 percent happy with where I’m at right now. This is a great profession.”
Draime, who hopes to one day be a faculty member, came to Cedarville’s School of Pharmacy after working as an elementary school teacher. Looking for a career change, she began working as a pharmacy technician in Springfield, Ohio, and then was encouraged to pursue pharmacy at Cedarville. She’ll soon be beginning a two-year health outcomes fellowship in the School of Pharmacy, which will allow her to do research, teach and practice as a pharmacist. In addition to being an inaugural member of the professional program, Draime will also be the first to hold the fellowship position.
“From day one, even freshman year, we’ve always been challenged by Dean Sweeney and the rest of the faculty to … find the opportunities and make the opportunities happen,” she said. “We’ve kind of already made our mark in the pharmacy world in several big ways, which is kind of cool to see my classmates achieving big things.”
A bright future
Sweeney said he thinks the future looks bright for the first graduating class.
I think they are leaders, I think they’re risk-takers, and I think they’re going to be highly successful,” he said. “I think they’re going to be in significant leadership in multiple spaces. And I believe that they’ll actually be servant-minded and actually desire to serve God and people, and I think that’s really exciting.”
Lewis said the graduating students have already been well-received by the clinics, pharmacies and hospitals in which they have worked, despite the School of Pharmacy having no track record of excellence.
“And so (our students are) side-by-side (with students) from universities who have been in the game for a while,” Lewis said. “And we have these preceptors coming to us without any prompting, saying, ‘I want you to know that your students are excellent. In fact, can I keep them for another month? Because I don’t want them to leave at the end of this month.’”
Lewis said he believes that as graduates, the class of 2016 will continue to excel in its chosen field.
“I believe that in the years ahead, the Cedarville University School of Pharmacy is going to be recognized nationally for graduating pharmacists that are not only compassionate, knowledgeable (and) able to lead, but will be noted as being excellent in every regard,” he said. “Time will tell, we don’t have any history with that yet, but I think that’s what we’re going to see.”
The first doctoral class will join other graduating students May 7 for the University’s 120th commencement ceremony. Read about the history of Cedarville University here in preparation for the big day.
Anna Dembowski is a senior journalism major and editor-in-chief for Cedars. She loves coffee and craves adventure. Follow her at @annabbowskers.
Jonathan Gallardo is a senior journalism major and sports editor for Cedars. He has no idea what he’s doing, but he knows he’s doing it really, really well.